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Bryant's death hits hard for local teams
People gather at a memorial for Kobe Bryant near Staples Center Monday, in Los Angeles. Bryant, the 18-time NBA All-Star who won five championships and became one of the greatest basketball players of his generation during a 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers, died in a helicopter crash Sunday. - photo by Associated Press

The news of the death of NBA great Kobe Bryant traveled around the world Sunday. Bryant died, along with his 13-year-old daughter and seven others in a helicopter crash early Sunday morning just outside of Los Angeles.

News of his death had fans, celebrities, and members of the sports community expressing their feelings on social media throughout the day, and into Monday. 

Bryant’s death was particularly painful for those in the Los Angeles area, where he was one of the most popular athletes to ever play. Here in Bulloch County plenty of athletes and coaches grew up watching and admiring his work, and shared their feelings on the tragedy.

“My thoughts immediately went out to his wife and family,” said Statesboro girl’s coach Jeff Seier. “I thought about how much he meant to the Laker organization, and what a great player he was. It is a shock to lose a basketball icon at such a young age.”

“What I admired the most about Kobe was his how tough he was, and the fact that he wanted to take the game winning shot,” said Statesboro coach Lee Hill. “He was so much like Michael Jordan in that way. I don’t feel LeBron is quite like that, even though he has all the talent in the world. Kobe wanted to be the one to win the game, he didn’t always make the shot, but I admired his competitiveness and belief in himself.”

“I thought Kobe was a fierce competitor,” said Portal coach Jeff Brannen. “He always took the game over, and wanted the ball during crunch time.”

While many older coaches still hold up Michael Jordan as the gold standard, for those between the ages of 35-45 Kobe has always been the man.

“It was so tough to watch it all unfold yesterday,” said Bulloch Academy coach Chance Cofield. “Kobe was my favorite player growing up. I only saw the tail end of Jordan’s career, but watching Kobe made me fall in love with basketball.”

“I always wanted to watch him play because you knew he was going to do something special every night,” Cofield said. “His work ethic and determination made him into one of the greatest to ever play. His “Mamba” mentality is something coaches are always trying to teach. Even after his career was over, he tried to pass his knowledge of the game to others. He will be missed, but his legacy will last forever.”

“The thing about Kobe to me was how committed he was to making himself better,” said Southeast Bulloch coach Matt Kuykendall. “No matter what he accomplished he was still the first one into the gym, and the last one to leave. He was given a great gift, and he honored it by never wasting a second on complacency.”

For some Bryant’s death really hit home, as a couple local coaches with daughters felt the loss in other ways.

“Kobe was not only a great basketball player, but a great father,” said Portal coach Huey Williams. “Like Kobe, my kids are all girls. Just being there to support my child is why I coach girl’s basketball.”

“Many of our kids grew up wanting to be like him, and that’s why it hurts so much,” Williams said. “His legacy will live on forever through his kids, and the fans. Next to Michael Jordan he is the NBA in my eyes.”

“I know we sometimes live vicariously through our superstars, Kobe was ours, my generation that is,” said Statesboro coach Marty Holder. “I remember his whole life, from coming out of high school, taking R&B singer Brandy to the prom, winning five championships. It just seems like he has been a family member.”

“It is so hard to think that he had just retired, and was moving into the second stage of his life,” Holder said. “He was going to be more invested in his kids, and in his businesses. He seemed so excited to be doing all of that, and then something like this happens.”

“I have three daughters that are all involved in sports, and it just floored me when I heard that one of his daughters died with him,” Holder said. “I can’t imagine his last moments with his daughter. Knowing that your child is right there there’s nothing that you can do for them. I told my wife today that I wanted to pick up my girls after school. It really hit me hard.”

Bryant is survived by his wife Vanessa and their three daughters: Natalia, 17, Bianka, 3, and 7-month old Capri.